It doesn’t have to be Latino Heritage Month to celebrate the artists, musicians, athletes and creatives who are leaving their mark.
The observance, which honors the contributions and histories of Americans with roots in Spain, Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean, straddles two months, spanning from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.
“It celebrates a vast community of Americans who have made invaluable contributions to the United States for over 300 years,” said Margie Huerta, executive director of the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. “Hispanic and Latinx people are making important contributions to American arts, culture and humanities, and all aspects of society, every single day.”
To celebrate Latino Heritage Month, we’re looking at how Oscar winner Ariana DeBose, MLB star pitcher Sandy Alcantara and TikTok creator Jesus Morales are thriving in their respective fields. This list, which is by no means exhaustive, looks at Latinos making their mark on screen, the airwaves, playing fields and in their communities with the promise of greater things to come.
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She’s a singer, a dancer and an actress, and DeBose this year became the first openly queer Afro Latina to win an Academy Award, earning the best supporting actress award for her portrayal of Anita in “West Side Story.”
In June, she hosted the Tony Awards, a familiar place for the 31-year-old. In 2013, DeBose attended the Tonys as a member of the cast of nominated musicals “Motown” and “Bring It On.” In 2018, she was nominated for her performance in Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.
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Don’t expect DeBose to slow down anytime soon. She recently joined the cast of HBO’s “Westworld,” and in early 2023, she’ll appear in Marvel’s “Kraven the Hunter.” In addition, she recently announced that she’ll star in and executive produce the bisexual romcom “Two and Only.”
DeBose, whose father is Puerto Rican, spent years making a name for herself on Broadway, where she’s won accolades for prominent roles in a number of shows, including the megahit “Hamilton.”
Her Oscar speech acknowledged the history-making moment by invoking lyrics to Somewhere from “West Side Story”: “Anybody who has ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever … I promise you this: There is, indeed, a place for us.”
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At only 25, Camila Cabello has won two Latin Grammy Awards, five American Music Awards and one Billboard Music Award since leaving the bestselling girl group Fifth Harmony to launch her solo career. She recently released her third album, “Familia,” proving that she doesn’t need to team up with anyone to make great music — unless she wants to.
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Collaborations with Ed Sheeran (“Bam Bam”) and ex-boyfriend Shawn Mendes (“Señorita”) were huge hits, but it was her first album, “Camila,” that showed the world what she can do on her own. It topped the Billboard 200; her hit single named after her native city Havana became the best-selling digital single of 2018; and her first headlining tour sold out in a single day.
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In 2021, she took another leap of faith, appearing in her first full-length musical, a take on the classic Cinderella fairy tale, released on Amazon Prime. In September, she joined “The Voice” where she’ll coach the next generation of singers.
The Cuban American pop icon embraces her roots with every song she sings and every project she takes on, proving she’s not afraid to be anything other than the true, authentic Camila.
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After initially using his social media platforms for fun, Jesus Morales, known online as @Juixxe, decided in 2020 that he wanted to use them to spread goodwill. As a Mexican American, he decided to shine the spotlight on a very specific segment of his community: street vendors. “A lot of vendors are undocumented,” he says. “The work is risky, unstable and they’re not guaranteed a living wage.”
To date, he says he’s donated more than $220,000 to more than 100 Latino street vendors in Southern California, inspiring his 2.8 million TikTok followers to contribute to his cause.
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Originally from Illinois, he moved to California to break into show business, but says his current path has proved much more meaningful. Most donations from followers are between $10 and $20, and Morales donates 100 percent of them, usually in $1,000 weekly increments.
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The street vendors’ reactions run the gamut from shocked and elated to grateful and humbled — and they’re all captured on video. “One vendor said, ‘I’m going to pray for you,’ and he immediately bowed his head, put his hand on my shoulder, and started praying with rush hour traffic swirling around us,” Morales says. “It was a beautiful moment.”
The 25-year-old credits his parents for his altruistic ways. “They, too, were immigrants, and they didn’t have much, but they were always collecting hand-me-downs and things we didn’t use much to give away. It stuck with me.”
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Bronx, NY-born Boricua Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked everyone when, at 29, she ousted a longtime incumbent in 2018 to become the youngest woman ever elected to the US House of Representatives. Armed with experience from her time as an intern for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and as the educational director of the National Hispanic Institute, AOC, as she is widely known, arrived in Washington, DC, ready to work on her unapologetically progressive agenda.
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Her platform includes support for workplace democracy, Medicare for All, tuition-free public college and abolishing the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Fans adore her fearless outspokenness, while critics don’t seem to know what to do with her. She regularly receives death threats and was called “crazy,” “disgusting” and a vulgar expletive by a former fellow representative (Ted Yoho, R-Fla.) on the Capitol steps. Her moving response days later — “I am somebody’s daughter, too” — silenced the House floor. She has introduced dozens of bills and amendments, including a Green New Deal resolution with bipartisan support.
But she’s just getting started. Whether or not she decides to stay in politics, she’s credited with inspiring a new wave of young, progressive candidates to also seek office, paving the way for a more diverse Congress and opening doors for the next generation.
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At just 26, Miami Marlins’ star pitcher Sandy Alcantara has already established himself as one of baseball’s next greats. Named to MLB’s National League All-Star team in July and with a burgeoning fan base, the Dominican athlete is living the American Dream with a five-year, $56 million contract. At midseason, he was among the MLB leaders pitched in innings.
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Despite his early success, Alcantara is unwilling to let his ego overrun him. “I was blessed with a strong arm and all I try to do is get the most out of my ability,” he says.
What does he think of his sudden rise to fame? “It’s flattering, but I feel like I’m just at the start of my career and have so much more to prove,” he says, adding that he’s a fierce competitor who always shows up to win. “At the end of my career, I do want to be recognized as one of baseball’s best, and I’ll work every day to get there.”
Alcantara says fans can expect him to give it his all every time he’s on the mound. “I’d like to be known as a pitcher who dominated the game and helped my team to win,” he says. “Equally important to me is to be known as a good teammate who did his best.”
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Self-care is more than just a personal luxury for beauty influencer and actress Ester Tania. For her, it’s a calling that she shares with her more than 2 million social media followers. Known as the “Self Care Sister” for her TikTok videos sharing beauty tips and tricks, the 33-year-old also offers life and wellness advice, health and fitness routines and travel vlogs. She has grown her appeal into several brand partnerships, including an eponymous crème eyeshadow collection with Au Naturale Cosmetics.
Raised in Nicaragua with four siblings by a single mother who attended school while working as a lawyer, Tania respects hard work as much as she encourages self-love and confidence.
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“Many Latinas find themselves in situations where they have very little help, unfortunately, which is why self-care and body positivity are so important. They go hand in hand in my experience,” she says.
Just like Tania is having an impact on her followers, she is making her mark in entertainment. Her film and TV credits include Netflix’s dramedy series “Master of None,” Marvel’s “Luke Cage” and Showtime’s “City on a Hill.” And she can be seen in the upcoming horror film “From the Shadows,” the TV miniseries “Mashed” and the romantic sports drama “Chang Can Dunk” on Disney+.
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When she’s not busy spreading beauty tips and showing up on screens, Tania makes philanthropy a priority. She regularly donates beauty and self-care products she obtains through her TikTok partnerships to women’s shelters and gives to animal rescue organizations.
“I try to remind the people who follow me that they don’t need an extraordinary reach to make positive changes,” she says. “I think it’s important we take care of our immediate communities before we try and take care of the whole world.”
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What is Hispanic Heritage Month? Latinos and Latino culture can be celebrated year-round